Protest with signs: Sped cuts are illegal and Dont balance the budget on the backs of students with special needs

As a Learning Behavior Specialist who has served students living with disabilities in Chicago for more than 19 years, and currently working as a special education teacher/case manager in Chicago Public Schools, I would like to thank the reassigned teacher for providing Bowen High School the opportunity to clarify points presented in the “Fighting for proper SPED staffing in our schools” article from June 2018.This response will address claims the author made regarding the lack of substitute coverage for an inclusion teacher, the need to provide proper services to students with disabilities and the claim about emailing the concerns to the principal.

The first statement that must be addressed from the article is, “The school failed to provide substitute coverage.” Many of us are aware of the difficulty schools have in providing substitute coverage for schools throughout CPS. In this case, Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) investigators received documentation of a substitute being provided in the event the inclusion teacher was absent. A substitute teacher was provided for the class to allow the inclusion teacher/case manager time to facilitate Individual Education Plan (IEP) and re-evaluation meetings, in accordance with ISBE and federal laws as a mandatory part of the role of a case manager. Traditionally in CPS, the duty of a case manager has been to teach a full load of classes in addition to ensuring that students with disabilities are serviced properly throughout the school day.

The second statement that must be addressed from the article is, “I had numerous special needs students who were not getting proper services.” A process was put in place to accommodate the immediate needs of parents and students while the inclusion teacher was still able to provide services to students in the reassigned teacher’s class. On the topic of providing proper services, on numerous occasions, the reassigned teacher was not present at Bowen to deliver proper services according to students IEPs. This was due to planned weekly absences in November and December of 2017. At least once per week, the reassigned teacher took off from his assigned role as a substitute teacher, preventing students from receiving proper services.

The final statements that must be addressed from the article are, “Keep accurate records” and “Keep your principal informed of any violations, and to do it by email.” It is essential to collaborate with various forms of communication, including email. For example, I communicated to the reassigned teacher via email a list of the students with disabilities who require accommodations and modifications, and how to access their IEPs. I received no response. On another occasion, I attempted to collaborate with the reassigned teacher via email about IEP data needed for an upcoming meeting, and for the second time, received no response.

Several schools encounter similar situations throughout CPS. One of the ways that we can work together as teachers and administrators is by genuinely investing in looking for answers to solve systemic issues, such as putting in place systematic structures in every school that help to identify students with disabilities as they enroll, because case managers are often unaware of the needs of new students and they end up programmed for classes that do not support their needs.

Another solution is to remove the responsibility of teaching instructional and/or co-taught classes for special education teachers who are also case managers. This would help to reduce the workload of special education teachers who are often forced to choose between addressing the immediate needs of diverse learners as the case manager and providing instruction in various settings throughout the school day. Both of these roles are vital to providing all students the proper services they deserve. These solutions must be included as part of our strategic bargaining to make the role of case manager a full-time position in every school within CPS.

Carolyn Burnes
Case Manager
LBS II Transition Specialist
Bowen High School

This article appears in the September 2018 issue of the Chicago Union Teacher.